It's hard to succeed, let alone survive, as a fashion designer. So every little bit of help counts. That's why fashion competitions that award emerging designers with money, access to fabrics and factories, and mentorships with established industry vets, are so important.
In the US, the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, started in 2003, gives three promising new designers money and business mentorships with the best in the biz. Ten years earlier, the British Fashion Council established NewGen to showcase and financially support new talent. And just this year, the Woolmark Fashion prize, one of the oldest in existence (design icons like Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent won it in the '50s), was revived. Sophie Theallet took home the US prize and an International winner has yet to be announced.
While it might be less known here in the states, the Festival International de Mode et de Photographie held every year in Hyères, France is perhaps the most prestigious of them all. Past winners include such talents as Viktor & Rolf, Gaspard Yurkievich, Felipe Oliveira Baptista, and Henrik Vibskov. Over the past 20 years, Karl Lagerfeld, Riccardo Tisci, Ann Demeleumesteer, Raf Simons, Cathy Horyn, and most recently, Yohji Yamamoto have served as jurors. So when you win, it's kind of a big deal.
This year 27-year-old Ragne Kikas picked up the Prèmiere Vision Award as well as the Fashion Public Award of the City of Hyères, which earned her 10,000 euros, access to fabric through Prèmiere Vision (the fabric trade show) plus the opportunity to showcase her collection at the Prèmiere Vision n New York--which is where I met her earlier this month.
Kikas, who is based in Hamburg where she studied design, is from a small town in Estonia. It's not exactly a hotbed for fashion design but she explained that knitting and crocheting are a part of the culture--she learned to knit when she was five.
"I learned from my mother," she said. "It's a normal part of life there."
But what Kikas does with knitwear is a far cry from what her mother taught her. "My mother cannot believe knitwear can be so interesting," Kikas said. "She can only knit socks!"
Her winning collection at Hyères titled “Dress Code Defensive” was based on armor and is unlike any kind of knitwear I've seen before--it's three-dimensional and structured and textured. Not your granny's cardi for sure.
Kikas truly marches to the beat of her own drum, foregoing the traditional techniques she learned in design school at Hamburg for just doing her own thing. "My starting point is always searching for traditional techniques and transforming them into my own techniques and i just play around," she said. "I do not sketch. I just begin." She produces everything by herself and even serves as her own fit model.
"After five semesters of normal fashion designing, you know like pattern cutting, it was too boring for me," she admitted. "So I came back to knitwear."
We think it was a smart decision.
Click through to see Kikas' winning collection at Hyères. Photos: Markus Alexander Voigt